Robert Avila

Historically challenged

War and peace in Philip Glass's Appomattox
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The central scene in Appomattox, Philip Glass's new opera now world-premiering with San Francisco Opera, is the fateful meeting of generals Ulysses S. Grant (Andrew Shore) and Robert E. Lee (Dwayne Croft) in a private residence in the Virginia town of Appomattox Court House, where Lee surrendered on behalf of the South on April 9, 1865, officially bringing the catastrophic Civil War to a dainty close. Read more »

Life sucks

A Lebanese vampire makes his mark at the Arab Film Fest
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By now it's natural to expect a lot from the Arab Film Festival, which is opening its 11th annual survey of cinema from the Arab world and diaspora with veteran Tunisian filmmaker Nouri Bouzid's excellent feature Making Of, then presenting more than 80 features, docs, and shorts from 13 countries in screenings around the Bay and, for the first time, in Los Angeles. Ghassan Salhab's The Last Man (2006), on the other hand, delivers something probably less expected: the first Lebanese vampire movie. Read more »

Beyond borders

Benedictus draws from a real-life meeting to explore political power games
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An uneasy double consciousness attends the able and purposeful world premiere of Benedictus — now up at the Thick House — whose plot concerns a back-channel effort to avert an impending US invasion of Iran. Read more »

Gay times

Celebrating the Rhino's three transformative decades of transgression
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A series of slide projections cycling through a gamut of theater posters greets audiences taking their seats at Theatre Rhinoceros's 30th season opener. Ranging in design from the openly trashy to the quietly tony, many of these posters offer eye-catching portions of skin and equally intriguing titles: Cocksucker: A Love Story, Deporting the Divas, Pogey Bait, Show Ho, Intimate Details, Barebacking, and Hillbillies on the Moon. Read more »

Cell mates

51802 charts love on the outside looking in
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Dance theater remains a thriving genre in Bay Area performance. To call it a subgenre of one or the other just doesn't allow due respect for offerings by the likes of Jess Curtis, Joe Goode, inkBoat, Rebecca Salzer, and Deborah Slater. Erika Chong Shuch's ESP Project, the resident company at Intersection for the Arts, is among the leaders in this field. Read more »

Lean and meaty

ACT delivers a tasty Sweeney Todd
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The word musical normally connotes light fare. But in its latest Broadway reincarnation, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street lends, in addition to bravura performances, a bracingly morbid bite to American Conservatory Theater's new season.

Of course, that doesn't stop Sweeney from delivering vigorous entertainment. Director-designer John Doyle's attractively reconceived, Tony Award–winning revival of the groundbreaking Stephen Sondheim musical serves up a theatrical feast from, yes, soup to nuts. Read more »

Once more unto the Fringe

The San Francisco Fringe Festival
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The San Francisco Fringe Festival, second oldest in the United States, is a full-blown teenager this year and intends, by the look of its sneak preview, to act its age. Sixteen candles equal roughly 500 performances from 100 acts reliably ranging all over the place — from an ex-Christian throwing down (Jesus Rant) to a two-woman portrait of transgressing poet Anne Sexton (Her Kind) to a new musical ("RM3") set inside a Southern Congressional campaign that incorporates songs by Ben Folds. Read more »

A fine 'Mesh?

Old Epic, new context
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A defining characteristic of the US imperial program in Iraq, we are often told, is the resolute refusal to learn anything from history. True to the TV-weaned attention spans of our triumphant culture, history here usually means the past four years — at least before stretching to include the eerily identical adventures of the British Empire less then a century ago, let alone anything going back any further. Read more »

The curtain calls

Bay Area theater falls into place
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Theater is where you find it this fall. For instance, at a warehouse party where assembled guests — artists, authors, bons vivants, goatees, and rockers of all stripes — get so carried away that a play suddenly breaks out among them (it can happen). Or in the offices and cubbyholes where a group of Dutch actors retreat midperformance to mine universal truths about the minutiae of mundane alienation. Read more »

Your neighborhood streets on wry (hold the Sesame)

Avenue Q and Insignificant Others: musical comedies with bite
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"Who are the people in your neighborhood?" Wasn't that the consciousness-raising question we were coaxed into asking as tots by the irresistibly catchy song stylings of public television? Well, if they're the mix of humans and Muppet-esque monsters of Avenue Q, they're strikingly but only superficially reminiscent of the denizens of that sidewalk utopia propagated by PBS children's programming. Read more »